For the report, Jackie Rotman, the nonprofit’s founder, interviewed employees and executives of more than 35 companies focused on issues related to women’s sexual health – including pelvic pain, menopause, menstruation and fertility – and interviewed dozens more. (The survey was created in partnership with Origin, a pelvic floor physical therapy company.)
Ads from all 60 companies were rejected by Facebook, and about half of them said their accounts had been suspended at some point, according to the report published on Tuesday. In most cases, Facebook had labeled the ads as containing “adult content” or promoting “adult products and services.”
In its advertising policies, Facebook states that “Ads promoting sexual and reproductive health products or services, such as contraception and family planning, must target people 18 years of age or older and must not be sexual pleasure”.
On its site, Facebook offers examples of unauthorized advertisements (“buy our sex toys for your adult pleasure”) and those that are (“new moisturizing lubricant to relieve daily vaginal dryness” and “practice intercourse sex protected with our brand of condoms”).
“ Back to recommendation stories
Still, Rotman found numerous ads targeting men that were accepted by Facebook despite appearing to violate the social media platform’s policy: a condom ad that promises “fun”; one for lube (“lotion made just for men’s alone time”); and another for an erectile dysfunction pill that promises a “hot, humid American summer.”
“Right now, it’s arbitrary to say a product is or isn’t allowed in a way that we think has really sexist undertones and a lack of health understanding,” Rotman said. She said it was a “systemic problem” and added that it is particularly damaging to small businesses.
“We accept advertisements for sexual wellness products, but we prohibit nudity and have specific rules on how these products can be marketed on our platform,” wrote a spokesperson for Meta, the parent company. from Facebook, in an email. “We’ve provided details to advertisers about the types of products and descriptions we allow in ads.”
The spokesperson added that Facebook was making mistakes in enforcing its advertising policies and had reversed several ad disapprovals that some of the companies mentioned in the report had experienced.
One company that has struggled to get ads approved by Facebook is Joylux, which sells menopause health products, including a device inserted into the vagina and used to strengthen the pelvic floor.
“Our consumer is a Facebook consumer,” said Colette Courtion, CEO of Joylux, who founded the company in 2014. “She’s a 50-year-old woman. Facebook is the best place for her to be educated about topics related to menopause Courtion added that Facebook is Joylux’s primary customer acquisition channel.
But, she said, Joylux employees have long been confused by Facebook’s policies and how they are enforced.
“Because of the nature of our product, the way it looks,” she said, Facebook and other companies believe it’s “pornographic.”
Since 2017, Joylux’s Facebook account has been shut down twice, Courtion said. The company did not tell him why.
Heather Dazell, vice president of marketing at Joylux, said she found that “any ad going directly to our site would be automatically disapproved because of the word ‘vagina’.”
A spokesperson for Meta said Facebook doesn’t generally ban words like “menopause” or “vagina,” but considers “how each ad is positioned.”
Over the years, Joylux has retired its approach to Facebook ads. But even with the changes Joylux has made to its copy and imagery, many of its ads are still rejected during the initial review process. Two years ago, Joylux began working with an agency that helps the company appeal ad rejections. Usually after the call the ads are approved.
But the process is time-consuming and expensive, Courtion said, and the resulting ads aren’t helpful to consumers. “We can’t show what the product looks like and we can’t tell what it does,” she said.
Intimate Rose, a Kansas City, Missouri company that sells vaginal dilators and pelvic floor weights and wands, faced similar issues. “We normally always get rejected,” said Adrienne Fleming, the company’s head of digital media.
She provided several examples, including an ad with a fully clothed, laughing couple (“live, laugh and love again with Intimate Rose’s pelvic health products,” her copy reads). Two other ads featured videos of women discussing how the Intimate Rose weights had helped them with incontinence. Fleming said all the ads were rejected because Facebook classified them as “adult products or services.”
In the adult products section of its trade policy, Meta lists several examples of items that are prohibited: “sex toys, sexual enhancement products, adult products of a sexual nature such as pornography, or underwear used or worn , nudity images, including partial nudity of children, even if not of a sexual nature.
But the policy states that “products such as lubricants or condoms, which do not focus on sexual pleasure or sexual enhancement” are permitted.
In an exchange with Facebook that she shared with The New York Times, Fleming emphasized that the company’s products are not intended for sex or pleasure. In response, the Facebook rep pointed to the trade policy and said the ad was properly rejected and he would not be able to reveal any more details as they could be used to circumvent the policy in the future. .
“It depends on the judgment of the reviewer,” said Aaron Wilt, one of the founders of Intimate Rose.
(THE STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)
Businesses aren’t the only entities using Facebook ads. RNW Media, a non-profit organization in the Netherlands, builds online communities for social change, including Love Matters, which focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and leverages Facebook ads to reach its audience.
Over a six-year period, nearly 1,800 ads posted by Love Matters on Facebook were rejected, according to a report on the sustainability of journalism and news media presented at the United Nations Governance Forum of the Internet in 2020. Most often, the reason for this was that ads were categorized as “adult content” or “sex toys”.
Michael Okun Oliech, social media director for Love Matters Kenya, said Facebook recently rejected two adverts it had submitted promoting an “escort service”. One of them was about consent; the other was about living with HIV.
He said the appeals process took him anywhere from a week to months and he rarely got a chance to speak with “a real human being”. To avoid rejection, Okun Oliech started using slang and replacing words describing certain body parts with fruit emojis (a tactic that has worked for companies like Hims, which sells Viagra).
But Charlotte Petty, a human rights expert at RNW Media, worries about the consequences of being indirect or having euphemisms. “There are ways to mitigate censorship, but at some point we compromise our own work,” she said.
Facebook’s advertising platform has been criticized several times in recent years. In 2018, a Washington Post investigation found that dozens of ads for LGBTQ-related events, businesses, and nonprofits were blocked by the social network because they were deemed “political.” Facebook, which requires advertisers focused on politics or social issues to go through several additional layers for ad approval, called the majority of ad rejections an error.
In November, Meta said it would block advertisers from targeting people with promotions based on their engagement with content related to health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion and sexual orientation, among other identifiers. The tools have been used to discriminate against specific groups and to spam people.
When it comes to sexual health and wellness businesses, Rotman hopes Facebook can act quickly. “It’s a fixable problem,” she said. “It’s not as complicated as protecting democracy or elections. It’s about finding a way to make sure women’s health ads aren’t blocked. It’s just a matter of Facebook deciding that it’s something they’re going to fix. »
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.